Are customer service chatbots worth it?


When was the last time you tried to make a customer service inquiry with a major company? Did you make a phone call, send an email, or use the “chat” feature on the company website?

If you’re like a growing number of consumers, you’ve turned to chat and probably interacted with a chatbot. In case you’re not familiar, chatbots are simple, automated programs that use conversational AI and knowledge bases to provide information and assistance to customers.

Depending on the sophistication of the program, the chatbot can simply try to figure out the purpose of the customer’s query and send them a link to the appropriate FAQ page, or it can go further and help the customer with actual processes, such as submitting a return. products or money transfer.

Are customer service chatbots worth it?

If you talk to your average tech-savvy startup entrepreneur, they will likely expound on the benefits of using chatbots. Online, chatbots are highly promoted and are often the target of tabloid journalism that portrays them as equally capable as humans.

But are chatbots really worth it? Is it worth investing in chatbots?

Current chatbot capabilities

Current chatbot technology it’s impressive, especially compared to earlier iterations of the technology. Today’s chatbots tend to be perfectly capable of executing actions based on simple algorithms. They can recognize thousands or even tens of thousands of customer prompts and can handle basic tasks (such as sending a link or providing a paragraph of information) with ease.

On the back end, it’s relatively easy to set up a chatbot if you buy one specifically designed to help multiple business owners. You’ll likely be able to take advantage of the possible template-based formulated interactions, upload your desired content, and customize the chatbot to your liking in a matter of days (especially if you’re using it for something simple).

At the advanced end of the spectrum, conversational AI is beginning to cross the threshold of “human-level” communication. Fluent sentences, an expansive vocabulary and recognition/comprehension of almost any sentence is possible.

That said, many companies use chatbots only for the simplest and most rudimentary tasks. They are designed to answer basic questions that have already been answered in the FAQ or to handle customer requests that can already be handled elsewhere on the site.

The good side of chatbots

There are a variety of benefits that you can enjoy when using chatbots.

  • Speed. Chatbots have the potential to serve people much faster than human operators. People who call into a call center are usually forced to wait at least several minutes, if not hours, to reach someone who may not even be able to help them. Even sending an email usually takes at least a few hours to get a response. But with a chatbot, users can start talking to an entity that represents the company right away, and can often find solutions within minutes.
  • Efficiency. In general, chatbots are very efficient. They do not require much in terms of ongoing effort, maintenance or investment. They can also be used to handle an almost infinite number of clients simultaneously. They don’t need to be trained and once they have a clear directive, they don’t make any mistakes.
  • Convenience for customers. Although some customers with bad experiences may tell you differently, most customers have a positive experience with chatbots. If you need help with something, you don’t have to bother composing an email or waiting on hold to speak to someone. You can also skip the effort of trying to track down the correct information page on the website yourself. If served properly, the chatbot can greatly improve the customer experience and thus improve customer retention.
  • Labor reduction. If you have a chatbot on your side, your need to train customer service employees will plummet. Assuming the chatbot is capable of everything, or almost everything, that your human agents could do, a chatbot can replace several members of your team. Depending on your goals, that could mean restructuring your team to save money or reallocating those resources to more important issues.
  • Flexibility. There are no real rules about how you are supposed to use chatbots. While your most popular application is customer service, there’s nothing stopping you from reprogramming your chatbots to serve a variety of functions. Even if you focus exclusively on customer service chat thoughts, you can program them to behave and interact with customers the way you choose.
  • Future potential. The future potential of chatbots is incredible. Programmers and entrepreneurs are already looking for ways to use conversational AI for things like psychological therapy and personal companionship. A convincing simulation of a human being may take several years, or even decades, but the future for conversational AI looks bright.

The bad side of chatbots

However, there are also some downsides to using chatbots that we need to acknowledge.

  • Industry dependency. Some industries and types of businesses benefit from chatbots more than others. If you only invest in a chatbot because it sounds cool, and not because you have a firm plan on how to use it, you might end up regretting it.
  • Fixed and limited responses. The chatbots’ dialogue is impressive compared to the robotics of the 1990s, but these bots are not fluent in the English language. For the most part, bots are limited in how they can respond and what they can respond with. The moment a user deviates from expectations, the bot is useless and must send the user to a human for further help.
  • User frustration. Dealing with chatbots can also be frustrating for users. If the chatbot doesn’t understand what you’re trying to say, despite repeatedly trying to rephrase it, it might get impatient. If you spend several minutes trying to fix the issue with the chatbot, but they can’t help you, you may feel like you’ve completely wasted your time.
  • Alienation of the user. Even if the chatbot is useful, some users may find it alienating. Talking to a machine, rather than a human being, can be an empty experience. If you want to create memorable experiences and improve customer loyalty, you can’t afford to neglect this.
  • Initial expense. While bots can save you tons of costs in the long run, they can be expensive in the short run. Template-based bot systems tend to be inexpensive and easy to set up, but if you want something more robust or capable of more advanced functionality, you’ll pay thousands or tens of thousands of dollars for a custom solution.
  • built-in defects. Chatbots follow an algorithm, for better or worse. They are predictable and never deviate from their programming, but if their programming contains a significant flaw, the negative effects of that flaw could be exacerbated. No chatbot is perfect and no programmer is perfect, so these flaws always exist.

Are we too obsessed with automation?

Are we too obsessed with solving all the problems with automation? Our disproportionate attention to chatbots, which have clear weaknesses and flaws, suggests this possibility.

On the one hand, automation has enormous potential, giving us a comprehensive technological tool that can help us with everything from creating new music to obviously serving customers. At its best, automation can reduce costs, streamline operations, and free up human time to tackle more complex tasks.

But at its worst, automation paints a different landscape. Overreliance on automation can result in magnifying existing problems, frustrating your users, and additional expenses that dwarf the cost of your original customer service team.

conclusion

New technology is always exciting, but we have a tendency to look at new technology with hungry eyes and optimistic expectations.

Instead of jumping enthusiastically into every new potential way to optimize business operations, we need to take a step back, weigh the costs and benefits, and only proceed when it is most appropriate.

Image credit: Arina Krasnikova; pexels; Thanks!

Timothy Carter

Director of Revenue

Timothy Carter is the chief revenue officer for the digital marketing agency in Seattle. seo.co, DEV.co & PPC.co. He has spent over 20 years in the world of SEO and digital marketing leading, building and scaling sales operations, helping companies increase revenue efficiency and drive growth for websites and sales teams. When he’s not working, Tim enjoys playing a few rounds of disc golf, running, and spending time with his wife and family on the beach, preferably in Hawaii, with a cup of Kona coffee. Follow him on Twitter @TimothyCarter


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